I know I'm probably letting myself in for all kinds of criticism from both sides of this issue by posting this in my blog, but I feel so strongly about the message it contains, that I feel almost compelled. Once, when I was still struggling with Same Sex Attraction myself, I came really close to killing myself over a situation that happened once in a place where I was working. Thankfully, I didn't go through with it, but it left me with an indelible understanding of both sides of this particular argument. Normally, I don't post political statements in my blog, but this…well, maybe you'll understand better if you just read it. I'll warn you, though, it's long.
PROPOSITION 8: A CLEAR MESSAGE FROM SOMEONE WHO'S BEEN THERE
I am going to attempt the impossible: I want to try to discuss Proposition 8 in an honest, equitable manner.
To demonstrate the divisiveness of the issue, let me first point out that I could only call it "Proposition 8." If I'd called it by its original name, "Proposition 8: California Marriage Protection Act," you would think that I want you to vote "Yes on 8." After all, who wouldn't want to protect marriage? If I'd called it by its new name, as determined by California's attorney general and legislative analyst in July, "Proposition 8: Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry," you would think that I want you to vote "No on 8." After all, who would want to eliminate someone's rights?
And, to demonstrate how far-reaching its effects, I didn't even need to call it "California's Proposition 8." No matter where this e-mail goes, to any of the 50 states that may have propositions up for vote, I'm confident people will know which state's "Proposition 8" I'm talking about.
Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times describes the Proposition with poetic imagery: "it is raging like a wind-whipped wildfire in California." More poetic still…from an article in Monday's San Francisco Chronicle:
"Michelle Sundstrom and her husband gave $30,000 to the Yes on 8 campaign and put a sign on their home. But in response, two women parked an SUV in front of their home, with the words 'Bigots live here' painted on the windshield. Sundstrom believes such responses must come from deep places of pain and that gays and lesbians are entitled to the same rights as heterosexuals, just not the word marriage. Any animosity toward gays or lesbians is wrong, she said.
"There must be such deep, deep, deep hurt; otherwise there couldn't be so much opposition," she said. "They've lived with this. I guess we're getting a taste of where they live."
Wow. Perhaps all this craziness and hate-slinging is actually getting us somewhere. A heterosexual Mormon couple has a "Bigots live here" sign parked in front of their house, and what's their response? "They've lived with this. I guess we're getting a taste of where they live."
And she didn't just say "deep hurt." She said "deep, deep, deep hurt." I know the depth of that pain. I grew up Mormon and gay back in the 1970s. That was when we were shunned, ridiculed, bruised, battered, and discriminated against by nearly everyone, religious or otherwise. We hid in the closets because it hurt too much to come out. People who did come out were called perverts, child molesters, predators, queer, sick, you name it. For those of us who were Mormon, it was even worse. We were attracted to the same sex, yet Mormon doctrine stated we were supposed to get married only to a member of the opposite sex. It is a direct conflict between the two strongest, most significant desires in life.
When I was in college, I met a woman with whom I thought I'd spend the rest of my life. But after a couple of years, we broke up. That was when I had this feeling, an impression, to talk to my bishop. I had no idea who he was because I hadn't gone to church in years.
That bishop used the power of the priesthood in my behalf, just as the divine plan had been laid out. He met with me for almost three years as I struggled and faltered. Suicide was a very real threat. I feel blessed, or lucky, or both, not to be among the many who have already pulled the trigger. I wasn't suicidal because of the Church's unwavering stance on marriage. I hadn't been forced to believe, or guilted into it. I had not been brainwashed. My testimony came from the heart.
In time, my spiritual identity began to gain strength over my sexual identity. I was finally able to choose the right. But it was a troubling choice. I had no desire, whatsoever, to spend a lifetime with a man–much less an eternity. So that left me with celibacy. To this day, sacrificing same-sex relationships is the greatest sacrifice I have made.
Years ago a friend said: "The sacrifice of a loved onefor an attempt to live righteously cannot go unnoticed. The loss is real, the sadness is real, in a world where so few things are real." Now, the sacrifice is being publicly recognized by Church leaders. In a fireside for Latter-day Saints in California, Elder Quentin L. Cook said, "There are faithful temple-worthy members of the Church who struggle with this great challenge, often in silence, fear, and great pain."
Back when I was battling same-sex attractions, I couldn't find any LDS resources dealing with the issue. I'd insist, "The Church doesn't understand. They don't even care enough to help." Finally I realized that the Church I was criticizing was not just "they". It was also "I", and perhaps "I" should quit complaining and start writing. So I did. The title of the book sums it up: Born That Way? A True Story of Overcoming Same-Sex Attraction. Few people were offering hope back then for those who wanted to overcome same-sex attraction. I felt compelled by the spirit to try and provide hope for others with struggles similar to mine.
The secular resources did more harm than good. Back then, the only claims you heard from the "experts" were: "Sexual attractions are a permanent part of who you are. They're indelible, unchangeable, and unavoidable." Fortunately, the "experts" are now realizing that, just like other aspects of who we are, sexual attractions are influenced by genetics, environment, upbringing, experiences – all of it. Nature and nurture are no longer pitted against each other.
For almost 20 years, I've had the unique opportunity to witness the journey of many people who face this trial. I started in 1990, when Evergreen asked me to help as a volunteer phone counselor. Evergreen is an organization established to help Mormons struggling with same-sex attractions. Over the span of nearly two decades, I've seen some of those Latter-day Saints get married in the temple. I've seen others work to remain celibate – either because they have not found a spouse or because they have not developed attractions toward the opposite sex. I have also seen those who once had very strong testimonies, who tried desperately to bring their lives into accordance with gospel principles, but finally gave up. At least for now.
THIS IS SO IMPORTANT: Some people, no matter what they do or how hard they try, will never find themselves attracted to the opposite sex, in this life. They deserve our utmost respect. So do those who identify as gay or straight or bisexual or none of the above. They all deserve our respect.
No doubt because I have lived both sides of this issue, I am not surprised that the wildfires are raging in California. Also, it's not difficult for me to understand how the body of the Church has become divided. I've felt divided,too. Our family lived in California in 2000, when the Defense of Marriage Act came up for vote the first time. My husband and I had been sealed together for time and all eternity, and our children had been born under the new and everlasting covenant. We, as an eternal family, were and are the direct beneficiaries of the Church's unwavering stance on marriage. What once created angst so severe I considered suicide led me to
a life I never thought possible. One in which I have been happily married – to a man – for 15 years.
However, I know all too well what it's like to be discriminated against. And the thought of "eliminating" someone else's rights seems wrong. Up until this week, it seemed to go against my sense of fairness, democracy and justice as a citizen of the United States. It also seemed to run contrary to the core of my faith – the second greatest commandment – to love one another.
Despite my apprehensions in 2000, my husband and I acted in faith and supported Proposition 22 because the prophet asked us to. I hate to admit this, but it wasn't until this week that I was able to reconcile the opposing viewpoints I have continued to debate in my own head. I now understand why the leaders of the Mormon Church have been taking such an active role in all of this. It happened while I was reading a National Public Radio report entitled "When Gay Rights and Religious Liberties Clash". It says,"In recent years, some states have passed laws giving residents the right to same-sex unions in various forms. Gay couples may marry in Massachusetts and California. There are civil unions and domestic partnerships in Vermont, New Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Oregon."
I was astonished when I read: "So far, the religious groups are losing." They listed examples such as Catholic Charities in Massachusetts who had to pull out of the adoption business because they refused to adopt to same-sex couples. Individual rights are being revoked, too. A woman declined to photograph a same-sex couple's commitment ceremony, saying her Christian beliefs prevented her from sanctioning same-sex unions. She was found guilty of discrimination.
When I read that article, it was like a light bulb went onover my head. More importantly, I felt a spiritual confirmation in my heart that the prophet truly is prophetic. And that was when this impression came tome:
It's not that the Mormon Church is trying to get into politics. It's that politics is trying to get into the Church. And not just our church. Any church or congregation or individual who believes that only a marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God.
I'm sorry I couldn't see what the prophet could see. I'm sorry I'm not sending this letter until now. I'm sorry for my apathy, for being "lukewarm". (I thought it was only a matter of time before same-sex marriages became legal everywhere.)
Yes, we're behind in the polls. Yes, it's the Friday before Election Day. So PLEASE, email this letter to anyone and everyone you think could benefit from it – as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, someone has to lose with Proposition 8. Somebody's right to something will be limited after the polls close on Tuesday. I, for one, do not want it to be my right to worship as I please.
P.S. For those who would like to respond to this letter -whether in anger or frustration or support – I will do my best to respond toevery email I receive. But please, be patient. All our kids are still at home and I work part time. Email email@example.com.